Column: NCAA has an image problem too

Published 5:00 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

Like so many of the sports these days, the NCAA has an image problem. 

And, like all the other sports, the problem is one of its own making. You see, unlike professional sports, the NCAA could have put the clamps down on “trash talking” and all the other ridiculous things that go on during a game these days.

But instead of addressing the issue when it first started to become a thing at the college level more than a decade ago, it more or less decided to ignore it. Now the genie is out of the bottle and there may not be a way to put it back in.

I find it interesting that a player can receive a techinical foul for standing over a player without saying a word, but making gestures like the ones we saw in the women’s national tournament go unaddressed. Not even a warning.

Now, before you all start getting worked up that I am heading toward some condemnation of Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, that is not where I am heading.

The only thing I have to say about that situation is that they are an example of what I am talking about. Both are wrong in doing that.

I remember when “trash talking” was something players did amongst themselves. Sometimes you would not even know it was going on unless it escalated into a physical altercation.

Now, with all the gesturing going on, everyone in the area and watching on television know what they are doing and that can become the sole focus of the game.

I guess what really made me mad about the whole Iowa-LSU situation was that it took away what in my estimation was the greatest NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship Game ever. We, of course, can argue that, but you are going to be hard-pressed to find one better than that.

Instead of talking about all the great performances, the clutch shots, the play of reserves who were called into action early and often, we are talking about Clark and Reese, as well as the officiating.

If you are a regular reader of my column you already know my frustration with the level of officiating we have at all levels of sports. It is simply not good right now. College and professional conferences and leagues need to get a handle on it before it becomes even worse.

I strolled through hundreds of Tweets Sunday during and following the game to see what people where saying about the officiating the title game. They were as appalled as I was. Again, instead of talking about a great game, the focus was on the three officials, who in my estimation should never work anything bigger than a regular-season game again.

People pay a lot of money to see the top players in the game perform on its biggest stage. What we got Sunday as multiple players from both teams sitting on the bench, some for nearly an entire half, because of the officials.

I can remember when I first got into this business, someone told me the best officiated game is one where you realize you did not even know they were there. That meant that the officials did there job, there were not real complaints and the game progressed smoothly.

I can honestly tell you, I can count on one hand the number of times I have felt like that after covering a game. Part of that is the culture we now live in, but the other is the fact that the good veteran officials are retiring and the new ones have not raised their game to that level.

Not all of the blame should fall on the shoulders of the officials, who make a decision to take on constant abuse from players, coaches and fans, to make a few extra bucks. Let me tell you, at the high school level, they do not make enough money for the abuse they received.

Two things have made it tough to be officials at the college and pro levels. The first was instant replay and technology like what baseball has that shows where the ball is when it crosses the plate.

We get to see the replays in slow motion. They had to make a split-second decision in real time. It is hardly fair to them.

But that does not let them off the hook for some of the calls we are getting the past few years. It is almost like they make a call and then let replay figure out if they were right or wrong. That is not what it was meant to do.

Replay was supposed to help make the right call when they were tough ones. It seems like now we review the simplist of plays.

The other thing is professional sports have crawled in bed with gambling. It should have never happened. With that much money on the line, we are all sitting here wondering if these college and professional officials are calling a game or affecting its outcome. 

That is a bad look for sports and one that needs to be addressed quickly.

Scott Novak is the sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at